Inexpensive radiation detectors cater to terror fears, but do they really work?

Tuesday, June 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A company says it has sold hundreds of $149 home radiation detectors since it began advertising on cable news channels last week, but experts caution that the devices would be of little use in a true nuclear emergency.

Homeland Protection Inc.'s radiation detector campaign coincides with warnings that future terrorist attacks against the United States are likely and a mounting conflict between India and Pakistan that has the potential to lead to nuclear war.

The company says an alarm on the devices goes off when radiation is detected, giving people enough time to seek shelter.

Its Web site warns of the possibility of gamma radiation from so-called ``dirty'' radiological bombs, as well as ``nuclear spills or meltdowns, terrorist attack on nuclear power plants, accidents or sabotage.

``With the recent increase in terrorism you and your family are at more risk than ever,'' the Web site states. ``The nuclear power plant near you may be the next TERRORIST TARGET!''

The site juxtaposes photos of a nuclear explosion's mushroom cloud, cooling towers of a nuclear plant and the flaming World Trade Center after the towers were hit by jetliners.

``We want to give awareness to people that crazy things happen,'' said Jack Khorsandi, the chief financial officer and co-owner of the West Hollywood, Calif.-based company.

At the federal Office of Homeland Security, spokesman Gordon Johndroe noted that environmental monitoring for radiation already takes place near the country's nuclear power plants, as well as at U.S. ports of entry. He said the office is not looking to purchase or distribute radiation detectors among the U.S. public.

``We have no information that indicates that terrorists have been successful in obtaining nuclear or radiological devices,'' Johndroe said.

In a true nuclear emergency, anyone within earshot of the detector's alarm would already be afflicted by radiation, said Jon Wolfsthal, an associate with the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

``If anything, it sounds like a way to exploit the fears of the American public as opposed to protecting them,'' he said. ``I wouldn't plunk down $149 of my own money on one of these things.''

Recent stories in the media have examined the possibility of terrorist use of nuclear weapons.

During the post-Sept. 11 period of anthrax mailings that killed five and sickened 13 people in the United States, a number of home anthrax detection kits emerged that critics said sought to capitalize on public fears.